Gone With the Wind

View Gone with the Wind (1939)

Directed by Victor Fleming (with George Cukor and Sam Wood uncredited)

Starring:  Viven Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, and Olivia de Havilland

Running Time:  3hrs. and 42 mins. 

BEFORE WATCHING:

In this section, I will encourage you to watch for certain things, whether it is color, editing, camera moves, story, or characters.  Since this is the first film of your analysis at home, I want you to simply view this film in a different way than you ever have: notice the filmmaking and take it all in.  Use the “film eye” mentioned previously.  You can watch the movie and understand the story, but when you notice the various components of the film, the analysis and chapter readings may be much easier for you.  This process will become more effortless as the course progresses.

For many years, Gone with the Wind was considered to be the best film ever made.  It broke box office records and became a world wide sensation in 1939.  Since then, it has gained new audiences, but in the past twenty years has been lost among modern filmmaking, more cynical audiences, and film buffs cherishing the more artistic classic films (Citizen Kane, for example).  I believe the film is a perfect starting point because it encompasses many genres:  romance, war, and drama.  Using your own personal modes of evaluation, why is this considered such a masterpiece?  How has acting and filmmaking changed over time?  Can modern audiences enjoy this film?

Technical Aspects

Gone with the Wind exhibits many technical aspects that we will discuss throughout the semester, and the most important to understand first is camera moves and camera angles.  We skipped right to Chapter Five in the first reading of the text because this is an important concept to understand early as we make our sequence analyses.  They are: 

Closeup (abbreviated CU): A shot framed for the human face from just above the shoulders.


Extreme closeup (ECU): A shot framed to reveal anything smaller than the human face.  Hands, feet, fingers, eyes, etc are considered to be ECUs.


Medium shot (MS): A MS shows a person’s face and a significant portion of the person’s body.  A MS can be described as a waist shot, knee shot, bust shot, or a two shot (when it contains two persons).


Full shot: A shot that shows one or more full human forms from just below the feet to just above the head.


Long shot (LS): Sometimes used interchangeably with the full shot.   A LS includes more of the environment.  Do not confuse with a long take.


Extreme long shot (ELS): A shot of basically scenery, location, vistas, in which humans can be seen, but not necessarily distinguished.



Camera Angles

High angle: Camera is above the subject.  Usually has a weakening effect on the subject.

Eye-level: Standard placement of the camera.

Low angle: Camera is below the subject. Usually empowers the subject

Reverse angle: A shot taken from an angle 180 degrees opposed to the previous shot.  Most commonly used in cutting interpersonal communication (over the shoulder).

Exaggerated angles: Those beyond high and low angles.

Canted angles: When the horizon line is tilted for effect.

Camera Movement

Pan: Camera moves horizontally on a fixed axis.

Tilt: Camera moves vertically on a fixed axis.

Dolly: Camera moves on a small wheeled vehicle, often on tracks.

Tracking: Camera follows the action by running parallel to it.

Framing: Camera adjusts to keep the subject in a proper place.

Crane (boom shot): Camera is mounted on a moving crane.

Aerial shot: Camera takes a bird’s eye view from plane, crane, etc.

Hand-held: Always jiggly, producing a certain amateur or documentary effect.

Steadicam: A gyrocopic device that allows a camera to be steady while mounted on the camera operator. 



Close up

Extreme Close up

Medium Shot

Long Shot or Full Shot

Extreme Long Shot

High Angle

Low Angle

Crane Shot from Gone with the Wind:

Technicolor

The first film to use Technicolor was Becky Sharp in 1935 (not Gone With the Wind, as many say).  Since true “color” film was not invented yet, Technicolor was a process that utilized the subtractive color process.  Three strips of film are passed through the camera simultaneously (red, blue, and green—the primary colors of light that mix to make any color).  The color is subtracted from each of the three strips of film so that when all three are projected simultaneously, they mix to make color.  Technicolor is a very heightened, bright sense of color that does not mirror the natural world , therefore, it was suited for more fantastic or highly visual films (The Wizard of Oz is a perfect example).  The following clip explains this process in relation to Gone with the Wind

Matte Effects

One special effect used heavily in Gone with the Wind is the matte effect, or matte compositiong.  Fxhome.com defines a “matte” as a “form of mask developed for film in the early 20th century. A mask would be placed over an area of the lens, leaving parts of the film unexposed. This would create the ‘matte’. The mask could then be inverted, and the remaining film exposed to a completely different image. This was how optical compositing was achieved, before computers made digital compositing a possibility.”  For the shot of the carriages entering Twelve Oaks and at the Charity Ball, the top portion of the shots were paintings, while with bottom portion was live action on film.  This is described in more detail in the following clip.  If you look closely at the Twelve Oaks shot, it seems like the carriages dissolve into the matte shot in a ghostly manner.

These are known as “stationary mattes.”  In other words, if the camera was moved, the painted portion of the scene would not move as well, revealing the matte.  In the 1970s, traveling mattes were introduced, most notable in Star Wars, in which the matte and the live action film were animated simultaneously. 


Mise-en-Scene:

Lighting

In the text you learned a great deal about the different styles of lighting:  back lighting, side lighting, three-point lighting, chiaroscuro lighting, and flat lighting.  Gone with the Wind has many memorable scenes that use lighting in very artistic way.  One that I would like to note play heavily with shadows.  Shadows in filmmaking are very important because they allow the viewer to forget that they are viewing a 2-dimensional image.  Lighting gives depth to a face or figure by casting shadows (whether faint or bold).  The term “flat lighting” gets its name because of the lack of shadows, making the image more 2-dimensional, as it actually is.  Watch the scene in the church with the dying soldier.   The shadows reflecting on the while give great depth and composition to the shot, but LOOK CAREFULLY!  Notice the shadow movements and configurations do not match those of the actresses.  Instead, it is the shadows of two off-stage actresses mimicking the movements of Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland.


Costumes

It is impossible not to notice the elaborately beautiful period costumes created for this film.  The costuming gives valuable cues to the viewer about the economic status of the characters as they progress from wealthy socialites to post-war struggles.  Color and design becomes crucial to moments in the film, particularly when Scarlet arrives at Melanie’s party in a crimson dress, or the infamous green dress made from curtains.


FILM FACT:  The filmmakers famously burned the sets from King Kong (1933) and other films on the back lot of the studios to substitute for the burning of Atlanta.  Rhett’s carriage was either superimposed in some shots or carried stunt doubles in front of the flames.  Scarlett’s role was not even cast yet, so the stunt double you see is only what the filmmakers envisioned as Scarlett, and NOT a Vivien Leigh look-alike. 


Narrative Aspects

Character

Perhaps the simplest form of character study is determining if a character is flat or dynamic.   Flat characters are characters that do not seem too dimensional or change very much throughout the film.  Supporting characters are often flat (think of Prissy) and are usually there to motivate or define the main characters (usually considered dimensional or dynamic characters).  One strength of Gone with the Wind is that the film is full of dynamic characters.  It seems that each character is very dimensional, changing attituudes, motivations, and heroics throughout the entire film.  The most obvious dynamic character (and perhaps one of the most famous in film history) is Scarlett O’Hara.  If you compare the superficial Scarlett in the beginning of the film to the developed, stronger (yet still with heroic flaws) heroine at the end of the film, you can track the dynamism of her character.  Dynamic characters are the basis of dramatic films, versus the flat characters that populate comedies, and epic films put the most dynamic characters on display.  A character does not necessarily have to change to be dynamic.  Melanie and Rhett are two characters who remained true to their emotions and motivations, but remain developed in character because the audience does understand these characters in more than a superficial way.  Think about all the characters in this film and how they change.  Do you see how these changes are necessary for conflict and a successful story?



History & Society

Gone with the Wind is a perfect introduction to the film dimension of history, because it displays both interpretations of the term.  In this dimension, you will not only analyze the film’s representation of a historical time period, but also the film’s place in film history.  First off, the film is a representation of United States history, the Civil War.  Films that take place in a time period other than present day are called period pieces and require more time, effort, and money from the filmmakers because of the research, construction, and sewing that goes into recreating another time. 

In the beginning of this unit, I discussed suspension of disbelief, which is the goal of all period films.  The filmmakers want to make this time period as believable as possible to its audience.  However, it is almost impossible to avoid all anachronisms.  An anachronism is when something is presented out of chronological order.  Imdb.com reports two anachronisms in the film:  Melanie picks up a lamp with a cord attached, and Scarlett walks past a street light with an electric bulb.  These are minor mistakes compared to other films, but they may take a viewer out of the “story” and into “disbelief.”  For the most part, this film is a picturesque representation of the Old South and the time period following the war, with accurate research on costuming, architecture, and social customs.

The second aspect of this dimension is film history, and Gone with the Wind definitely earned a cherished spot in film history.  There are too accomplishments for this film to name, but I will try to list a few that are noteworthy.  The first African American to be nominated for and win an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel for her portrayal of Mammy.  If box office dollars were adjusted for inflation, it would be the highest grossing film of all time, and is the most-watched film in theatres.  In the American Film Institute’s list of all time greatest American films, it comes in at #4.  The film ranks third with most Oscar nominations (13), and has its own museum in Atlanta.  Gone with the Wind was released in 1939, which many historians believe was the best year in film history, alongside such classics as The Wizard of Oz, Stagecoach, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Gone with the Wind was one of the most anticipating castings in film history, with over 1,400 actresses auditioning for the role of Scarlett.  The public read the trade papers daily as each of the leading actors were cast in their roles. 

This film was produced in the old Hollywood studio system, in which films were produced like objects from a factory (the factory being the studio).  Stars at the time belonged to certain studios, and typically were not released from contract.  Most of the lead actors were “borrowed” from other studios for their roles in this film.  More information on the studio system can be found in your text and also in the discussion of Sunset Boulevard in a few weeks. 

Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel, and Clark Gable were all nominated for their performances, with Leigh and McDaniel winning the Oscar.  The acting of this time period may seem less realistic than what modern audiences are used to, as this is a very melodramatic film.

Actor vs. persona: This is a discussion topic addressing the fact that many actors simply portray a persona over and over again in their films.  For example, while versatile actors such as Tom Hanks, Gary Oldman, or Meryl Streep reinvent themselves for every role, some seem to stick with the same character type for each film.  The most obvious example of a persona is John Wayne.  Even though he plays a different character in his films, John Wayne is always John Wayne.  In this film, Clark Gable portrays a persona he was known for, the arrogant, cocky, smooth-talking leading man.  Actresses such as Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland were known for portraying different types of characters. 

FUN FILM FACT:  The Reminiscent Soldier was played by Cliff Edwards, who was also the voice of Jiminy Cricket.


When analyzing society, there are two facets:  the portrayal of society, and the society surrounding the release of the film.   The society dimension analyzed the treatment of all members of society (men, women, minorities) and social customs.  What aspects of society did you notice in this film that are drastically different from today?  There are too many to list here.  The opening scenes at Twelve Oaks show the social differences between men and women, as well as a society in which slavery exists.  Throughout the entire film, Scarlett ignores the typical role of a southern female to inhabit the roles of a dominant male. 

This film does not necessarily reflect the society of 1939 (although period pieces can be a commentary on modern society).  Just like the release of Titanic in 1997 sparking interest in the history of the disaster, I’m sure it peaked interest in Civil War history.  It is interesting that the film broke a few societal taboos.  Most famously, the filmmakers had to fight censors to include the line, “Frankly my dear…I don’t give a damn.”  That quote was just voted the #1 film quote by the American Film Institute.  Look how far film language has come!


Direction

This is one of the only films in history in which the producer of the film, David O. Selznick, is given more credit for the film than its director, Victor Fleming.  Following the theory of a director being the auteur (or author, or sole creative force) of a film, the producer’s job is usually to finance and hire all the filmmaking staff.  Gone with the Wind is exceptional in that there are three directors attached to the film:  George Cukor, who was fired after creative differences with Clark Gable after only 33 minutes of produced film, Victor Fleming (director of Wizard of Oz), who directed most of the film, and Sam Wood, who filled in for Fleming during exhaustion.  The direction dimension will be developed further later in this course when the “auteur” aspect of direction comes into effect. 



FUN FILM FACT:  Vivien Leigh reportedly did not like kissing Clark Gable because she said that he had excessively bad breath.

Genre/Movement

Our analysis of genre comes later, but this film is remarkable in that the film fits into many genres.  A genre is of course a classification of film, but genres are very difficult to define.  This film can be described as a romance (a historical romance to be specific), an epic, a drama, or a melodrama. 

Epics

The topic of “epics” can be simultaneously classified in the “Genre” section of analysis later in this unit because the term is applied to a genre as well.  But this term relies specifically on story telling, and Gone with the Wind is the only example of an epic presented in this course.  The term is derived from the epic poetry of the ancient Greeks – The Odyssey or The Illiad, and means a long, heroic, narrative poem.  This is translated into the film community by representing films that typically have a longer length, and follow a hero, heroine, or heroes on a long or historical journey.  This decade has already produced a few classic epics:  The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Gladiator to name a few.  Epics do not necessarily have to be of another time period or land.  You could argue that a film like Ray or Kill Bill have epic qualities to them as well.  What are some other epics you can think of? 

Episodic Drama

Possibly a result of epic storytelling, Gone with the Wind’s narrative is presented in episodes.   In other words, much of the plot could be divided into short episodes (or chapters) that contribute to the greater plot (Will Scarlett get Ashley?  Will Scarlett get Tara back?  Will Rhett get Scarlett?), but could stand alone in the story telling as well.   Films like The Lord of the Rings also employs this kind of storytelling (mini-adventures as part of a grander adventure).  All of the births, deaths, and marriages are all chapters in the larger story.  When these dramatic life changes come together, we get the epic story.  Modern audiences today may find this episodic drama very melodramatic or fit for a soap opera, and others may find it enthralling.  Notice how fast time passes and the story becomes very episodic after Rhett marries Scarlett.   Do you like this style of storytelling or find it exhausting?